Once upon a time in Washington, the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service was doled out to U.S. Justice Department lawyers and other federal agents who did yeoman’s work in putting away some of the baddest guys out there — from human traffickers in the D.C. metro area to the chief terrorist who attacked the American consulate in Benghazi.
In 2019 — under the warped leadership of an AG in William Barr who’s turned out to be Donald Trump’s much-sought-after Roy Cohn — it’s the bad guys who are being rewarded, for doing the blatantly political and unjust work of rapidly ramming a poorly vetted Brett Kavanaugh onto the U.S. Supreme Court. The “distinguished service” of 100 or Justice Department lawyers who were pulled off their other important cases in the fall of 2018, it turns out, was to shape a probe that would obfuscate rather than illuminate the flawed-from-Day-One Kavanaugh nomination — and the execute the greatest cover-up of the 21st century.
The contours of that cover-up became clear this past weekend with the first excerpt from a new book by two New York Times journalists who spent a year re-investigating Kavanaugh’s confirmation fight, including the explosive allegations of sexual assault and misconduct by the federal jurist when he was a D.C.-area high schooler and an underclassman at Yale.
Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, the reporters behind “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation,” found seven people who could offer strong corroboration for Deborah Ramirez, Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate who alleged that the future Supreme drunkenly thrust his penis at her when they were both freshmen in 1983.
Those seven people were never questioned by the FBI, in a probe that was severely crimped by the long political arm of Donald Trump’s administration. Nor did federal agents question the respected head of a D.C.-area non-profit, Max Stier, who told senators he’d witnessed a similar incident at Yale to the alleged Ramirez assault. GOP senators never called Ramirez to testify. And no one got to the bottom of Kavanaugh’s murky personal finances, either.
A year after Kavanaugh’s confirmation — when Christine Blasey Ford riveted the nation with her emotional testimony that Kavanaugh had, with a friend, covered her mouth, groped her, and tried to take her clothes off when both were attending suburban Washington high schools — it’s clear that large swaths of our supposedly representative government raced to injustice, and that the hearings were a farce.
Journalists had to do the vetting work that a politically warped and no-longer impartial Justice Department, forged by the most morally compromised White House in American history, refused to do. And now we know:
- A lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court (a privilege that must be earned, it’s not a right) was doled out to a man who can’t own up to credible allegations of serious, criminal youthful misconduct — a horrible role model to today’s young men.
- Kavanaugh seems to have lied in sworn testimony to get past these charges and onto the Supreme Court bench.
- The government bodies supposed to vet all of this were instead party to its cover-up.
- And yet the worst, most infuriating part is knowing our hopeless, half-baked government won’t do a damn thing about it.
Just think about this. In 2016, we had a Senate majority leader in Mitch McConnell who plowed through the guardrails of democratic government and civil traditions by refusing to even hold a hearing on a nominee from the president that American voters had chosen in 2012 to pick their Supreme Court justices, Barack Obama. It was no big deal for McConnell and his GOP minions in the Senate majority to hold a Supreme Court seat open for an entire year — while the court was hearing critical cases on the environment, corporate power and civil rights — to wait for their political long-shot to pay off.
But in 2018, heaven forbid that the 140-m.p.h. Kavanaugh confirmation could have been slowed down for just two or three weeks to allow the FBI to do what used to be its job and interview witnesses who could corroborate — or in some cases maybe not corroborate — the very serious allegations raised by Ramirez and Stier. Indeed, the authors Pogrebin and Kelly also found the woman in Stier’s allegation didn’t want to testify and told friends she didn’t recall Stier’s claim, so maybe a little more devotion to the truth would have helped Kavanaugh on some aspects of the probe. The real problem here is that McConnell, Team Trump and probably Kavanaugh didn’t want the truth. They wanted a fifth vote on the Supreme Court.
The whole Kavanaugh caper is emblematic of a Republican Party that cares everything about winning and nothing about this nation’s democratic principles. As the Times’ Paul Krugman pointed out in a slam-dunk column this morning, the GOP abuses are taking place every day on Capitol Hill — where whistleblowers said to have serious evidence of government misconduct have been mysteriously silenced — and in far-flung places like North Carolina, where Republican lawmakers rammed through a controversial budget-veto override by waiting until Democrats were attending a 9/11 commemoration. The only things nearly as bad at the GOP are the top Democrats and newsroom editors pretending that America’s slide into authoritarianism is business as usual.
But the new allegations about Kavanaugh seem to have touched an especially raw nerve. They have angered just about everybody — on the left and on the right. For pro-Trumpers — the people supposedly suffering from “economic anxiety” who instead packed rallies largely to scream “Lock her up!” about a woman who dared to run for president — the fear of a world where men can’t mistreat women without it eventually coming back to them is a fear that passes all understanding, with their anxiety over shrinking misogyny much greater than any supposed terror of rising socialism.
From President Trump himself to the usual Greek chorus of right-wing talking heads, there’s fury at the New York Times (which indeed badly botched the presentation of this case, a complicated rabbit hole that you can read about here and here) for doing the legwork that Team Trump prevented the FBI from doing — the kind of rage that rings loud for any assault on white-male privilege that you never see for, say, a report on Trump’s 7,473rd violation of the Emoluments Clause.
But the other side is outraged — and justifiable so — that for all the hullabaloo about #MeToo revolution in America, the powerful patriarchy continues to hold most of the cards. And the visage of Brett Kavanaugh staring down from that high bench — protecting polluters and Wall Street inside traders for the next 30 or 40 years — is the rage-inducing living proof of that. The Republican white men of the Senate Judiciary Committee — and their brothers-in-arms in the Justice Department — were never going to give someone like Deborah Ramirez a fair shake against the likes of a Brett Kavanaugh.
The Kavanaugh farce is the exclamation point on an utterly broken justice system in America — where an attractive and wealthy Hollywood star who cheated her daughter into an elite university with criminal fraud gets a whopping 14 days in prison while the homeless mom who lied about where she lived to get her kid in a better school gets five years. For those of us old enough to know that Kavanaugh — along with Neil Gorsuch, occupant of the seat that McConnell stole from the first black president — will still be on the Supreme Court when we die, and that dreams of seeing true justice in America will pass away with us, this reality is a brutal gut punch.
In the 1939 classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Jimmy Stewart’s Jefferson Smith says famously that “a lost cause is the only one worth fighting for.” The impeachment of Brett Kavanaugh — quickly endorsed by many of the not-Joe-Biden Democratic candidates for president (the only folks with an incentive to connect with everyday Democratic voters) is a lost cause. Such a radical notion — to find out whether one of just nine Supreme Court justices lied his way onto the bench — will never fly with cowardly Dems like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or frightened journalists like the Washington Post editorial board. But radicalism is the only thing left that can save America’s soul.
How is it possible that the impeachment of a Supreme Court justice is unthinkable, but a 40-year-run for a man who may have lied under oath to get there, and to hide his past mistreatment of women, is thought to be no big deal? How can we attach the respected title of associate justice to a man whose looming generation of influence over the American Way will be a daily reminder of our national injustice? Yes, the impeachment of Brett Kavanaugh is very much a lost cause worth fighting for.
Will Bunch wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.